Professor Dhirendra N Majumdar
(1903 – 1960)
Professor Dhirendra Nath Majumdar, an anthropologist par excellence, was born in 1903 at Patna. A post graduate from the University of Calcutta, his journey in ethnographic research was influenced by Shri Sarat Chandra Roy from whom Majumdar learnt his ‘ first lessons in field investigation’( Majumdar 1937) when he undertook intensive fieldwork among the Ho of Kolhan (in Jharkhand).
In 1921 a combined Department of Sociology and Economics was started at Lucknow University under the leadership of Radhakamal Mukherjee and Majumdar was appointed as a lecturer in Comparative Economics. It was here that he met his lifelong friend, D.P. Mukerjee. Under the prolific scholarship of the triumvirate – Radhakamal Mukherjee, D.P.Mukherjee and D.N. Majumdar, Lucknow University came to be recognized as a towering centre of academic excellence in social science studies for many years to come and developed into a centre of great repute in Sociology and Anthropology.
In 1933, in pursuance of his doctoral research he studied the Ho tribe. The University of Cambridge awarded him the doctorate in 1935. An independent Department of Anthropology was initiated at Lucknow University in 1951with Professor D.N. Majumdar as the Head of the Department. His efforts took the department of Anthropology to great heights as it became well respected nationally and internationally especially when Anthropology in India was still findings its feet. Furer Haimendorf writes about Majumdar, “His vision, wide experience of all branches of anthropology and remarkable energy had made him a focal point of anthropological studies in India, and his Department in the University of Lucknow, the foundation and development of which he always regarded as the core of his life work, has for many years been the most active Department of Anthropology in the whole of South Asia”(Haimendorf 1960).
Professor Majumdar never let the pursuit of a specialization come in his way of constricting and limiting himself from the totality of Anthropology. His seeking spirit made him, an Anthropologist per se. Both social and physical anthropology were well within the ambit of his scholarship. He was always keen to learn about the different fields of Anthropology as “He made notable research contributions to both Physical Anthropology and Social-Cultural Anthropology. As a Physical Anthropologist, he conducted ethnic or racial surveys in Bengal, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh” (Sarana 2005: 102). Viewing Anthropology as the study of the totality of humans, he brought together in one volume, Races and Cultures of India (1944), three different yet allied areas of research within Anthropology – Indian prehistory, with a discussion on the racial groups in India with inputs on ethnological and ethnographical concepts and data besides presenting the situation of the tribes and castes in India undergoing the processes of directed culture change.
Majumdar’s publications convey his in-depth research on diverse areas of human living. He believed the gathering of anthropological knowledge of a people to be meaningful only when it is used for the betterment of lives through planned change.
Majumdar’s seminal work, A Tribe in Transition (1937) is acclaimed as one of the earliest and most important publications on the impact of non tribals on the tribals against the backdrop of rapidly occurring industrialization and the resultant processes of acculturation. His empathy towards the plight of the tribes motivated him to propose the MARC approach that exemplified Man, Area, Resource, Cooperation calling for an active interaction between these four components.
He was emphatic on the planned rehabilitation of the tribes, saying “planned rehabilitation must take into account the hopes and aspirations of the people, misconceived though they may be. The two axioms of cultural rehabilitation should be: (i) we cannot be civilized unless every one of us is civilized, and (2) every people, however primitive or civilized, has a right to its own way of life, and to the development of its traditional culture. To reconcile these two requires a complete grasp of the details and a sympathetic understanding of the realities of tribal aims and aspirations” (Majumdar 1951: 812). His compendium of publications included ethnographic writings based on his study amongst the Ho of Kolhan, the Khasa ( Jaunsar Bawar), the Korwa, the Tharu, the Bhil and the Gond. D.N. Majumdar was among the pioneers of village studies in India. His notions of ‘rural analysis’ and ‘rural profiles’ are reflected in his works, Caste and Communication in an Indian Village (1958) and Chhor Ka Ek Gaon (1960) which discussed inter-caste relations, addressed the interconnect between leadership, factional politics and economy besides examing the significance of the undercurrents in village life. While studying the social contours of the industrial city of Kanpur he called out to social researchers saying, “Our towns and cities are growing, our vigilance must not vane; sociologists must line up for social research and help the administration in its assigned task of building an urban population, socially aware and mentally conditioned for the city life” (Majumdar 1960). Majumdar epitomized the commitment of anthropology towards the development of the tribes, castes, villages, cities and the entire nation. As a member of the Research Programmes Committee of the National Planning Commission Majumdar had highlighted the contribution of Anthropologists towards administration. T.N. Madan endorses this when he writes, “anthropology could offer useful knowledge and usable advice to the policy maker, the administrator and the social worker… The changed situation in the early 1950s offered new challenges and he (Majumdar) responded to them swiftly and energetically’ (Madan 1994:29). Majumdar felt Anthropology in India should cater to the requirements of Indian society and anthropologists in India should, “separate the native warp from the foreign woof” (1939:1-2).
Majumdar founded the Ethnographic and Folk-Culture Society in 1945, and started the journal ‘The Eastern Anthropologist’ in 1947. His international collaborations like the Lucknow- Cornell Project besides holding positions of repute in international bodies, made the western anthropologists look upto Anthropology in India. The research of Prof. Majumdar in Physical Anthropology as also in Socio-Cultural Anthropology along with his efforts in keeping pace with the latest trends in anthropology made him a doyen of Anthropological thought on the Indian sub-continent. A prolific researcher and an inspiring teacher, Majumdar nurtured a large number of students. He breathed his last in 1960 while still in service.
Contributed by: Prof. Geetika RanjanDepartment of Anthropology,North-Eastern Hill University,Shillong
Furer-Haimendorf, C. von, 1960. Dhirendra Nath Majumdar; 1903-1960. Man (London), 168-169.
Madan, T.N.1994. Pathways Approaches to the Study of Society in India. New Delhi:OUP.
Majumdar, D.N. 1937. A Tribe in Transition. A Study in Culture Pattern.Calcutta and London:Longmans Green & Co.,
1939. Tribal Cultures and Acculturation. Calcutta: Indian Science Congress Association.
1944. Races and Cultures of India. Kitabistan. Allahabad.
1951. Tribal Rehabilitation in India. In International Social Science Bulletin. 3(4):802-814.
1958. Caste and Communication in an Indian Village. BombaAsia Publishing House.1960. Chhor ka ek Gaon.Bombay: Asia Publishing House.
1960. Social Contours of an Industrial City. Bombay: Asia Publishing House, Bombay.Sarana, Gopala and R.P.Srivastava.
2005. Anthropology and Sociology. Lucknow:New Royal Book Co